Sunday, October 5, 2014

Learning Double Bass: Attack On All Fronts!

Lately I am obsessed with learning to play jazz on a double bass (also called string bass, stand-up bass or acoustic bass).  I give not a scatological expression for anything else.  I get on these kicks, where I want to learn as much as I can as quickly as I can.  So I listen to jazz music, paying particular attention to the bass, I read articles on how to play jazz bass, I play exercises, I read musical scores, and I play along to backing tracks.  Lately I have even used a free musical notation program to write my own bass lines from the chord sequence of a song, e.g. "Blue Monk."

Today I finally understand what a 1-6-2-5 chord progression is.  There are many different chord progressions, all described by equally strange numeric references.  The 1-6-2-5 is used in "rhythm changes" jazz tunes, such as "I Got Rhythm."

In other words, when it comes to double bass, I am attacking on all fronts simultaneously.

Ultimately, after digesting a ton of music theory, you have to actually sound good.  So lately I have emphasized playing to backing tracks or the recordings of actual songs.  I don't want to just ad lib, I want to play the chord sequences in clever but accurate ways.  Sounding great on bass is the one overriding goal.  All the rest of it, i.e. the theory, just supports that goal.

I am in my second semester of Beginning Big Band class.  The band leader is a gigging jazz trombonist who really knows jazz and swing, and he is leaning on me to improve (he seems to like me, though).  He is always telling the brass section to "Listen to the bass!  Listen to the bass!"  The bass lays down the rhythm and chord changes that keeps the rest of the band on track.  If I screw up, the whole band can get lost, especially the soloists.  That's a lot of pressure on me not to screw up (i.e. losing my place in the song's bar sequence).

I have learned so much since beginning this class, but there is so much more to learn.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

FEEDBACK! How Do You Stop It?

Last week at my big band class, I started getting feedback from the amplifier.  There was a loud hum, then chairs and music stands began falling over and dust fell from the ceiling.  The other musicians all got under their chairs, fearing an earthquake.  But it was just my bass, feeding back.

How do you stop feedback?  It is a common problem with an amplified double bass!  As soon as I find out how to fix the problem, I'll get back to you.

UPDATE:  I stopped my feedback by reinstalling my Realist Copper pickup, securing the pickup bracket through the G string eye hole.  I had to take off the G string and then run it through the bracket holes, but the trouble was worth it.  Oh yes, and I didn't reinstall it on my practice bass, where it was originally.  I reinstalled it on my carved bass.

At big band class tonight, the tone and volume of the bass were quite nice, easily heard over the sea of horns.  And no feedback!  The band leader said the difference was like night and day, a big improvement over last week.

This fixed my immediate problem, but I think the feedback demon needs greater analysis.  I use a practice amplifier (for bass guitar) to amplify my double bass.  Bass guitar amps were not really made for an acoustic bass with its feedback problems.  There are amplifiers specifically made for double bass, and worth your consideration.

On some of the bass forums, they talk about amplifiers with "notches," a means of electronically eliminating feedback.  I need to research the best amplifiers specifically designed for double bass.  One that I have my eye on:  the Contra bass amp from Acoustic Image.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Two Easy Ways to Improve the Tone and Volume of Your Double Bass

I have been reading Chuck Traeger's books on the repair and setup of the double bass for optimum sound.  In his short addition, Coda, he explains two easy ways to improve the tone and volume of your double bass.  I am trying them out, and will report back here how they worked.

1. Put .005" teflon pads underneath the feet of your bridge.  Chuck says these pads allow the body of the bass to vibrate with less constraint from the pressure of the bridge.  The result is a noticeable increase in volume (more vibration = more volume).

My solution:  I ordered some from Metropolitan Music (metmusic.com), here's the link.  Price is $10 for enough teflon for three basses, plus shipping charges of $9, for a total of $19.  Installation instructions are provided.

UPDATE:  I installed the teflon pads under my bridge.  I am not sure if it increases the volume, but the sustain seems much improved.

2. Change your metal end pin to one made of wood.  Most bass end pins are made of steel or graphite.  End pins do more than just hold up your bass: they vibrate and add to the volume and tone of your instrument.  Steel end pins don't vibrate very well.  Graphite vibrates better, with an increase in volume, but the tone isn't optimum.  Traeger experimented with end pins made of different types of wood, and was amazed at the difference in sound -- he has concluded that the end pin is even more important to sound production than the sound post.  Various woods produce louder or softer volume, brighter or darker tone.  The ones you choose may depend on whether you play arco or pizzicato.  You should consult Traeger's book for a more comprehensive discussion of the various woods to learn which may be best for you.

Chuck found black oak to work best, but cautions that every bass is different.  The end pin wood has to match the impedance of your bass.  The wood end pin you choose will depend on several factors, e.g. the construction of the bass, the type of wood it is made of, whether it is carved or a laminate.  Even the type of strings you use can be a factor.  Therefore, some experimentation with different woods may be necessary.

The wooden end pin must be 5/8 inches in diameter for optimum sound; larger or smaller diameters don't work as well.  I searched the internet for wooden end pins, and those available from dealers are few and expensive ($80 to $150).  Too rich for my blood.

My solution:  After browsing several bass forum sites, I learned that common drumsticks can be used for end pins.  To get drumsticks that are 5/8 inches in diameter (.630 inches), order size 2b.  2B drumsticks are thicker than most drumsticks, and are used for heavy metal and other ear-busting music.  You can buy drumsticks in different types of wood, like rosewood and hickory, but oak is probably best in most cases.  However, I couldn't find any in black oak, so I ordered some in Japanese white oak (see link here).

You can get a rubber cap for the end pin at most hardware stores.

Drumsticks generally cost around $10 a pair, with another $5 - $8 for shipping.  Or, try your local music store.

UPDATE:  Unfortunately, the collar for most bass end pins is smaller than than 5/8 inches, so you would have to drill the collar to widen the hole.  Probably not worth the trouble.  I did note, in some bass forum, that a bassist used a 3/8 drumstick instead of the optimum 5/8 size, and still had good results.  Rather than drill out my end pin socket, I will try using a 3/8 size dowel.

MY SECOND ATTEMPT:  Regular end pins are only 10 mm, slightly larger than 3/8 inches.  10 mm = .393701 inches.  You can buy wood dowel rods off of Ebay; the closest fit would be 3/8 inches in diameter, or .375 inches.  So the wood dowel would be slightly smaller than 10 mm.  I think it should still fit okay; in any case, I ordered a walnut dowel that is 36 inches by 3/8 inches.  If it works, I will have enough for both of my basses with room to spare.  I ordered such a dowel off of Ebay for $10, which includes shipping.  We'll see if that works.

Note:  For more details on these topics, buy Chuck Traeger's book Coda.  It also has other tips for maximizing your sound.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Big Band Practice: My Progress on Double Bass Continues

Last night we held the first band practice with our new band leader, a young college student named Faris.  Faris is a senior at San Jose State University, majoring in jazz.  He plays piano and trombone.  But not at the same time, har har.

Faris proved to be an excellent band leader, and we the members got a lot of good out of this first session.  Unlike the former band leader, whom we much loved, Faris pays attention to the rhythm section.  He asked me to turn up my volume!  Omigod, I like this guy.  Then he asked me to play a few lines of the sheet music, and I did (thank goodness I have been learning sight reading of notes).  That went well.

Faris told me to be bold, to hit those notes with vigor, not timidly, as the band, and especially the soloists, need a strong rhythm section to keep them on course during solos.  He also implied that we need not follow the notes perfectly literally, that it is okay to throw in some flourishes that are not in the sheet music.  Jazz is about improvisation, after all.

In other words, "once again, with feeling."

I was into it last night.  My sight reading is the best it has ever been, though it is not as good as I want it to be, yet.  I will renew my practice with increased vigor.

The new practice site is in the band room of a junior high school, and it is crowded with chairs and equipment.  I didn't have time to bring in my stool, so I stood for the whole hour and a half of practice.  To my surprise, I didn't tire, my legs didn't hurt, and my arthritic right shoulder didn't ache. Also, I didn't get lost!  I must be getting in shape, but I think the intense focus also was a factor.  By god, I am going to be a double bass player!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Zen and the Art of Playing Bass; and Introducing "The Abe Train" Jazz Quartet

My Big Band music class starts up again tomorrow.  This morning I began practicing the songs (on my string bass) that I learned in the last session.  I noticed how much easier it is to read notes this time around.  What once was torture is now an achievable task.  You do something many times over and it becomes easier to do.  Funny how that works.  I am not "there" yet, but I am further down the road.

Before I started this class, my two string basses sat in their stands, untouched, gathering dust.  No more.  Now they both get handled a lot, played, tuned, adjusted and repaired.   I am forever tweaking the setup of each one, always seeking the best playability (the "action") and sound possible.  I even ordered a well known book to teach me better how to do that:  Chuck Traeger's book, Setup And Repair of the Double Bass for Optimum Sound: A Manual for Players, Makers, And Repairers.

Mastering an instrument is similar to learning a new language.  It requires immersion, study, practice, contemplation and great patience.  Zen might help too, except that it is difficult to play bass while holding the full lotus position.  

Stick with it long enough and you may come up with something like "The Abe Train" (see video below).  The Abe Train is a jazz quartet of young musicians in their twenties.  They are from the San Francisco Bay Area and damn good.  The bass player really grooves.  Use headphones so you can hear every note of their rendition of "Autumn Leaves."



Sunday, September 14, 2014

Spirit Varnish Repairs for a Double Bass

Repair of Spirit Varnish Blemishes; Upon Turning a Simple Scratch Into a Major Disaster

Last week, when  I picked up my carved bass to practice, metal on my belt bit into the upper bout of my bass, leaving a visible scratch.  What I should have done, was use my "Cherry" furniture repair pen to hide the scratch.  Instead, I painted on some red/brown spirit varnish, tried to wipe it off, which marred the surrounding area.  Before I knew it, I had changed a very simple repair into a major disaster.  Now the small scratch had grown to a big ugly blotch.  I had violated an important principle of bass repair:  be patient, be careful.

I slopped on more red/brown spirit varnish, painting with the grain, then against the grain.  After several coats, the blemish was mostly covered satisfactorily, but had developed a very dark border of accumulated varnish.  It didn't look too bad, to a guy riding by on horseback at midnight. Since I don't own a horse, changes would have to be made.

First off, the color was also too red, and I realized that, though Calin Wultur Panormo basses are supposed to be finished with red/brown varnish, the upper bouts had been finished with golden brown varnish.  The golden brown segues into red/brown further down the bass.  It became clear that I needed some golden brown spirit varnish.  I ordered some immediately.

I carefully (for a change) removed my application of red/brown spirit varnish, using an alcohol-dampened rag (spirit varnish dissolves in alcohol).  I got it down to the bare wood, carefully removing the ugly thick borders.  I will wet sand it smooth with fine sandpaper, and when I get my golden brown varnish, I'll try again.

I'm fairly confident that I will be able to repair the varnish satisfactorily.  I will use this as a learning experience.  I am beginning to realize that double bass players almost have to be luthiers in their own right.  These basses are fragile and complicated.  I ordered a copy of  Chuck Traeger's book, Setup And Repair of the Double Bass for Optimum Sound: A Manual for Players, Makers, And Repairers.  I also ordered the "Coda," a smaller followup volume offering additional setup and repair tips.

My Big Band class begins again next week.  Fortunately, I have another double bass I can use until I repair the Calin Wultur Panormo.

UPDATE:  I applied the Golden Brown spirit varnish and greatly improved the appearance of the damaged area.  Does it look as good as it did originally?  No, but it isn't half bad.  I may try and improve it sometime later, with more coats of varnish.


Friday, August 15, 2014

Encouraging Progress on the Double Bass

Last night was the sixth and final session for my "Beginning Big Band" class.  After the class, the band went out together for beer and dinner at the Los Gatos Brewery.  We all enjoyed the beer, snacks and conversation.  Several people complimented me on my bass playing, and that was nice.  The lovely lady band leader gave me a big hug.  The guitar player tried to recruit me for another local big band.  I told him I would gladly consider it.

My biggest challenge in playing upright bass is the arthritis in my right shoulder and shoulder blade.  I must continue exercising with weights to overcome it.  My desire to be a serious bassist is also my greatest incentive to get and stay in shape.

Now that I don't have my weekly class meeting as a practice incentive, I must find new incentives, e.g. a new class, a new band.  I will think on it.

What I take away from this classroom experience:  (1) a much greater ability to read notes (2) an improving knowledge of the bass neck, and better intonation; (3) practical experience in the maintenance and transporting of my large double bass.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Zoltan Dekany: A Great Bass Instructor Online

Zoltan Dekany
In a Google search, I discovered a great bass instructor online.  His name is Zoltan Dekany, and his YouTube Channel is called Zoltan's Bass Lounge.  He lives in the U.K. You can access his site at this link.

Zoltan has instructional videos for both bass guitar and double bass.  Since I am struggling to become a double bass player, I concentrate on those videos.

When I first got my double bass, I was impatient, and ignored videos telling me how to use the "hand shake," the manner in which a bass player uses his left hand.  As a result, I became tired quickly and couldn't practice too much.

It has since become obvious to me that solidly learning the basics is highly important, so I am currently concentrating on intonation (playing clear sounding notes), shifting the left hand to accurately play notes up and down the neck, and strengthening my fingers through bass exercises.  Zoltan explains these things in clear language that the student can understand -- there are many good bass instructors online, but many of them talk over my head.  Zoltan doesn't do that.

I recommend Zoltan if you are looking for a good online instructor.  I have added Zoltan's link to my sidebar.



Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Cleaning and Organizing My Music Room

Since I began a serious study program for double bass, I have been busy doing odd things.  Like cleaning up my music room.  Yesterday I began cleaning out my desk drawers of old junk:  obsolete computer programs, obsolete cables and computer accessories, old bills, correspondence and bank statements (these are shredded).  I am being ruthless in tossing stuff I no longer need or use.  Today I will continue, clearing out my book shelf and a chest of drawers, a closet clogged with junk, all to make more room for currently useful items.

Having a neat, organized practice space is conducive to good practice habits.

I took my three bass guitars off of their stands and put them into their cases, to protect them and make more room.

My two string basses sit on these big metal bass stands, similar to the smaller stands used for guitars.  The feet of these stands, where the bottom of the bass rests, are covered with foam rubber sleeves to protect the bass from scratches.  However, these foam rubber sleeves quickly wear out, developing holes and exposing the bass to scratches from the metal surfaces.  Yesterday, I removed the worn out rubber sleeves, and replaced them with clear plastic tubing from Ace Hardware.  The tubing protects the bass very well and will not easily wear out.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Musical Progress! Reading Notes, Playing Bass and Replacing My End Pin

I have now finished three classes of "Beginning Big Band," an adult education class, and my skills continue to grow.  The band leader is a lovely lady Brit who seems to like me a lot, probably because I am one of the few musicians in the class who doesn't play some kind of horn (we have four alto saxophones, one baritone sax, one tenor sax, two trumpets and a trombone.  Non-horn musicians include a drummer, a guitar player, and me, on string bass).

I am reading notes better and better.  Now when I look at the sheet music, it makes a lot more sense then when I first glimpsed the chaotic collection of dots and lines on the page (the notes and staff).  More and more the feeling grows, that not only is this possible to become a literate musician, it is inevitable.  It will happen.

We have a two week break before resuming our weekly class, which ends in early August.

Last week the end pin on my bass broke, and I was wondering how to repair or replace it.  I took a chance and ordered a new end pin unit, not knowing if it would suit my bass as opposed to other brands of basses.  However, when I loosened the strings on my bass, the old end pin could be pulled out and the new one inserted.  (The end pin is held tightly in place by the strings, which are attached to the tailpiece, which in turn is attached to the end pin by a steel cable.)  Apparently, just about any end pin will fit just about any bass.

I love it when I am able to figure out and fix things for myself.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Nashville, the Television Series

I have been spending evenings watching the television series "Nashville" on HuluPlus.com.  The series is basically a soap opera with guitars, set in Nashville, and features the struggles and conflicts of Country singers and musicians.  As a series, it isn't bad, and I am enjoying it.  The major characters include Deacon Claybourne, a recovered alcoholic, his niece Scarlett O'Connor, a cute little blonde with a great voice, his former lover and mythical Country megastar, Rayna James, and a young and ruthless artist Juliette Barnes.  Rayna is a lovely older woman, 40is, and Juliette is a 20 something, smoking hot blonde.  Juliette is perpetually angry, horny, demanding and rude and tends to be a one-dimensional character. Deacon is the chief male protagonist of the series, a likeable guy and constant fugitive from a shave.  He is by far the most interesting and believable character, though like everyone else, is subject to occasional fits of overacting.

I began watching the series because it was ostensibly about music, and there is a lot of singing and playing.  Most of the music, however, is utterly forgettable and as substantial as cotton candy.  It isn't very Country either.  Some scenes are just not credible -- Rayna strutting and posing on a stage while a large audience is going wild, jumping up and down, cheering and raising their arms, until Rayna starts singing another of her utterly forgettable tunes in her very ordinary voice.  At that point the audience really gets excited.  ACTING!!

It has been said that great songs have a "hook," some repeated theme that makes the song compelling.  These songs generally do not have that hook.  Furthermore, the lyrics of these songs are generally vacuous and silly, with a few exceptions.

Rayna is pretty and stays on key, but her voice is ordinary.  Same for Juliette.  Scarlett is the only singer who actually has an interesting voice, though most of her songs are also mediocre.  With better material, she could really be a star.

Like most soap operas, there are subplots and background drama, a host of characters involved therein, while the latter play musical beds, and everybody winds up banging everyone else, sooner or later.  My interest in the series is on the wane.  I'll look for something better.

Update:  I have continued watching into the second year episodes.  The songs have gotten better, and Rayna and Juliette sing better than my first impression of them.  However, there is a sameness to the each episode that I find annoying.  Musical beds continues, with everyone banging everyone else, and everyone cheating on their mate, with absolutely no romantic relationship lasting more than an episode or two.  In this fictional world of "Nashville," marriage is indeed an obsolete institution.

Friday, July 11, 2014

How to Get Ready to Play String (Stand Up) Bass

Taking a course in "Big Band" has really helped me to make the transition from bass guitar to stand-up string bass.  Here's how I am preparing myself to play it with skill and stamina:

1.  Playing string bass is physically tiring -- After playing a while, my shoulders and arms start to ache from holding and plucking the bass.

Solution:  Exercise your arms and shoulders with five pound, hand-held weights.  At first I was skeptical -- only five pounds?  A squirrel could work out with those.  However, the secret is in the number of repetitions.  I do three separate lifting exercises, with twelve repetitions each.  I do this regimen once in the morning and once in the evening.  After I'm through, I can feel the burn. Now my arms and shoulders feel stronger and I don't tire so quickly playing bass.

2. Playing by touch, not by sight -- With a string bass, you never have to worry about hitting a fret -- there are no frets!  Nevertheless, you still must hit the right note in the right place on the neck, and you must do it by feel alone.  Why?  Because as a string bassist you will be concentrating on your music, and if you look away to find the note on the neck, you will lose your place on the sheet music.

Solution:  Practice your scales daily.  First, look at where the notes are on the neck (I put pencil marks on the side of the neck showing where the fret would be -- they can be easily erased later).  Play the scale while looking for the first time, then play the scale several times without looking.  This will help you navigate the neck by feel, without the need to look at the neck.

3.  Reading notes quickly and effortlessly -- If you are new to reading notes, pencil in the name of the note by each note on the sheet music.  After a couple of days of practice, you won't need the pencil marks anymore.  Then you build speed by reading the notes as you practice.  There are many bass books that supply you with "etudes," practice routines for reading notes.  To be able to read notes, you must read notes!  You learn by doing.  Don't worry about speed at first, just concentrate on playing the right note as it is represented on the page, one measure at a time -- or even one note at a time.  Speed will develop quickly.

4.  Amplifying your bass -- I bought a Realist Copperhead bass pickup.  It costs $200, but works very well, producing true bass tone through an amplifier, with no feedback so far.  I use a small Peavey bass practice amp -- I bought it for my bass guitars for less than $200; it is light and portable, but puts out enough power to be heard.  The Realist pickup installs easily without having to carve into the bridge, and you can hide the input jack under the tail piece.  I used a computer cable tie to fasten it to my tail piece.


Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Sight Reading Notes - Not As Hard As I Thought

I started my Big Band class last Thursday, and was given sheet music to learn.  I was not at all sharp on my ability to read bass clef, so I penciled in the name of each note on the sheet music.  This helped, but after a couple of days, I no longer needed the pencil notations.  In fact, they became a distraction, so I threw out the sheet music and printed fresh pages from my soft copy.  Now I am just reading the notes.

My ability to sight read is growing quickly.  I am amazed.



Friday, July 4, 2014

Bass Notes Quiz

I found this great little bass notes quiz online.  It helps you learn the notes on lines and spaces by sight.  See it at this link.

Another useful program for learning bass notes can be found here.

Big Band: My First Practice

Last night I had my first practice with the big band.  We will be playing swing and jazz.  The project is actually through an adult education class, with a band leader and various musicians.  There is a big brass section:  a baritone sax, an alto sax, a trombone and three trumpets.  We could use a drummer and a tenor sax.  A guitar is coming.  As for me, "I proudly took my place, as the one and only bass" (from the Music Man).

My attorney (and close friend) plays alto sax, and invited me to join this group.  We are having a ball doing it.  The challenge for me is reading notes.  I do read bass clef, but not nearly fast enough; I can't really "sight read," but this project will help me do that.  I found myself straining to read the notes, and it was challenging, but I am sure I can do it, with enough study and practice.

That's a rule for success in learning to read notes.  Get in a class or program where you are obliged to learn it, with deadlines.  You may never learn anything new without a good reason and a good program for doing so.  With other musicians depending on you, you have a great reason.

I used my Fender Jazz Bass guitar for this first meeting, but will bring my Calin Wultur Panormo string bass to the remaining sessions.  A big band must have a traditional string bass; bass guitars are just too rock and roll.   I splurged on a better pickup, a Fischer, at $200, for my string bass.  Yes, string basses do need amplification (all those horns are loud), but this pickup ostensibly does not alter the warm, woody twang of the bass.

Our first three songs to practice are (1) Sing, Sing, Sing (2) Greensleeves and (3) A String of Pearls, all from the American Songbook of great old standards, which make for excellent jazz pieces.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Big Band Practice! I Have to Read Notes! Arrrgh!

Tonight I start an adult education class called "Beginning Big Band."  We will study the music for various standards and play the songs as a band.

The course requires you to be able to read music.  I do -- sort of.  I have studied the bass clef in the past, but never had any opportunity to apply what I learned, so have forgotten it.

So now I am on a crash course to relearn bass clef.  Hope I don't make a fool of myself tonight.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

THE BEATLES - Fifty Years Later

February 9, 1964 was a Sunday, and that was the night the Ed Sullivan Show was live on television.  On that night, fifty years ago today, the Beatles debuted in America on that show.

On that long ago Sunday, I was practicing with my rock and roll band in my best friend's garage in the Kooser area of San Jose.  Joe was my best friend through high school, and is still a friend today.

Joe's mom stuck her head in the door to the garage and told us to come quick, and hear this new band on television.  We turned off our amplifiers, put our guitars down and sat on the floor in front of the television in the living room.  The Beatles came on and girls were screaming.  While the Beatles were singing and playing, captions appeared beneath each face giving the name of the Beatle on the screen.  The one beneath John's face read "Sorry girls, he's married."

What was striking about the Beatles was their appearance.  Gone were the Elvis-style pompadour hair helmets.  These guys looked like Little Boy Blue with their hair mops, devoid of pomade, but somehow, we liked it.  They wore cute little black suits with white shirts and black ties.  They used harmony singing, except for the Beach Boys, this was almost unheard of!  When the show was over, the Beatles bowed from the waist in unison.  We went back to our guitars and tried to pick out the tune to "She Loves You," but found it difficult.  This music was a lot different than the boogie woogie rock beat we were used to.

Early in 1964, we were all still in a blue funk over the assassination of President Kennedy.  Traditional rock and roll was dying out.  Anyone who could barely carry a tune was recording songs heavily overlaid with echo chamber effects (to hide their crummy voices), and instead of guitar, bass and drums, had whole orchestras providing the instrumentals.  It sucked.  Elvis was still making forgettable movies like "It Happened at the World's Fair" and Dion sang some monstrosity about "Do the Madison," another idiotic dance step.  It didn't catch on, thankfully.

The music fad just before the Beatles arrived was the hootenanny.  Hootenannies featured folks singers playing acoustic guitars and singing crap like "Don't Let the Rain Come Down -- My Roof's Got a Hole In It and I Might Drown."  One could could only hope.

If you weren't there, it may be hard to understand just how special the Beatles were.  They launched "the British Invasion," a whole slew of British bands that saved rock and roll and created a new genre of great music.  Following in their footsteps were the Rolling Stones, the Dave Clark Five, Gerry and the Pacemakers, the Animals, and many more.

I saw the Beatles perform live at the Cow Palace near San Francisco in 1964 and 1965.  They were so cutting edge, so innovative, so talented -- George's fantastic guitar solos added so much to John's and Paul's singing, with Ringo providing the drum beat.  They seemed magical, and it was a magical time in those early days.

Now, fifty years later, John and George are dead, Paul and Ringo are in their seventies.  When I see a photograph of the foursome now, I remember that magic and how it felt, and they still seem cutting edge to me, even though they're not.  Cutting edge today is rap crap and stupid gimmicks, and "songs" that you can't even hum.

Now, like the night they appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show, popular music is in a low place, dominated by no-talent hacks, the great rock beat nowhere to be found.  Now is the perfect opportunity for a new rock group to emerge, to capture the public imagination, to restore the beat, revive the magic, and bring back the joy that rock music can bring.  I hope I live to see it.

Here's some of their greats.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The 2014 Grammy Awards: the Good and the Bad

Busy, busy, busy doing tax returns.  That explains the big slowdown in my posting, if anyone cares. 

I watched the Grammy Awards, because my wife wanted to watch it, and I had no choice.  I liked seeing some of the old rockers like Kris Kristofferson, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr.  I also enjoyed the western groups, and one new female country singer wore a very short dress, and she had fantastic legs.  Those were the good parts of the show.

I was annoyed at the new pop music acts and “artists.”  Some young woman with black lipstick was unveiled to smoke and flames by the raising of what looked like a giant Japanese lantern, revealing her underneath.  Then a troupe of people in tights all emulated grand mal seizures as they writhed around the stage, all while the black lipstick lady "sang."  The music was cacophonous and the words unintelligible.  The lady in black lipstick was later awarded a Grammy (a trophy resembling an old fashioned phonograph with a megaphone on top). 

 Then some black guys in white suits stomped around chanting and grunting to something called “Def Jam,” making me wish I really were def or that I could jam cotton into my ears.

 Surprisingly, the best music group was one from France, whose name I have deliberately forgotten, who wore what looked like white space suits, including helmets with black, opaque visors, so their faces were completely hidden.  Weeeeeeird.  It kind of reminded me of the Cone Heads from Saturday Night Live, with the space aliens explaining in a robotic monotone:  "We're from France."

There is a reason for all this dubious theater by the pop groups:  it is to hide the fact that they  don’t really have any talent.  Their songs are garbage, the lyrics the incomprehensible mutterings of the mad.  Without the giant lanterns, smoke, flames and space suits, they got nothing.

Towards the end of the ceremonies, Queen Latifa “married” 33 couples, some of whom were gay, right after some schmo with a weird haircut sang a non-melodic paean to the wonders of gay love.  How did this figure into a ceremony honoring the best singers?  It didn’t.